Nana Plaza This Week
From reading your column over the years, I've been accustomed to seeing bar owners describing each successive high season as the worst ever. Naturally they're talking from their perspective as proprietors. I wonder though whether they ever consider how bad the high seasons, or any seasons for that matter, are for their customers.
They might complain about lack of customers, I and many other punters though complain about lack of staff and declining standards. Its all very well for Nana and Cowboy to splash out on a new lick of paint and some more neon, but that's not going to do much to retain or attract customers when they poke their head in the door and see what's on offer.
Been to NEP twice within the past week and among the depressing sights _ all at peak trading hours between 10 PM and midnight – were: Fantasia having no dancers at all, just two fully dressed service staff standing on the stage, the failing Las Vegas having just 5 customers and 3 girls on stage, Lone Star having 2 girls on stage and no customers, the declining Angelwitch at best half full with a distinctly homely looking bunch of girls who would be well advised to take less interest in their phones and kanom and more in dancing and smiling, and Billboard having only 12 customers and with a staff who could not look less interested if they tried.
The owners may have a moan about how hard it is to get staff, but I wonder. On the same night as the above, I wandered into Rainbow 3 and glancing at the whiteboard I counted 47 girls with 17 having been barfined. If the Rainbow bars, and Spanky's and others besides can manage to be literally spilling over with staff, why can't the Billboard group? After their initial investment, those bars seem to be going downhill quickly.
And even if you concede that there are difficulties in finding staff, that situation is not going to change, they have to adjust to that reality. The mamas in Isaan just aren't popping them out like they used to, and even the diminishing number of Isaan girls now have a much wider variety of options available to them, their career options are no longer just farm, factory or fucking. And its going to stay that way. The upturn in the Thai economy and the burgeoning middle class is not cyclical but structural. The precipitative decline in the European and American economies mean just about all investment is now flowing into Asia. Thailand will never go back to being a 3rd world country with huge numbers of people willing to do anything for a buck.
For the past few years, the bars have managed to combat their difficulties and keep up their revenue growth by putting up prices. But that option is now just about at an end. Bars crossing the key threshold of 100 baht per beer was largely tolerated by the punters, but with prices now matching what you pay in western bars, there is no room to move. The typical single male holiday maker in Thailand came here because the drinks and girls were cheap compared to home. When that ceases to be the case, they stop coming. And that is not a prediction, its happening.
About the only hope I can see on the horizon for bars is the ASEAN economic union. If the authorities can be counted upon to turn a blind eye, there's a chance that plenty of girls from neighbouring countries could be brought in on simple service jobs but really employed in the bars. It could be a large-scale version of Orchard Towers – a Thai bar, next to a Filipina bar, next to a Vietnamese bar etc.
Things have taken a sharp nosedive on Sukhumvit – and it is not just Nana Plaza where things are bad. Cowboy has been hit badly too. I'd say it's just the past couple of months, maybe even just the past several weeks, where a rapid deterioration has set in. Tilac in Cowboy used to have a good lineup but now is stocked with fat, older women. Angelwitch used to be packed with pretty girls and appreciative customers, yet these days there aren't that many pretty women in there at all – and there seem to be fewer customers to my eyes. Bangkok bar owners had better wake up quickly because punters are being turned off and looking elsewhere. Pattaya will benefit in the short-term and I would not be surprised to see a swing back towards Patpong of all places.